The Native Speaker in Bilingual Education • Is the native speaker always the best teacher of the
• Are there advantages in employing non-native
When bilingual education was initiated in Montreal in the
1960s (the target language being French) it was expected
• What are we really looking for in a teacher of
that teachers in the French immersion programs would
themselves be bilingual. It was certainly expected that
• What should we be looking for in an expatriate
they would be native speakers of French, the language in
which they were to teach English-speaking children. This
was not such a difficult condition to meet in a city where
All of these questions are connected, so let us consider
plenty of people were bilingual and there was no shortage
them together rather than separately.
of people who were native speakers of Canadian French.
Unfortunately, bilingual teachers and native speakers of
Henry Widdowson, the great TESOL scholar, once
the target language are not as readily available in many
remarked that, in teaching English, the native speaker
other places, including Thailand. Bilingual education in
possessed “authenticity of language”, but the non-native
those places has had to depend on either local teachers
speaker (when teaching in his own cultural context) had
with some ability in the target language (usually English in
“authenticity of pedagogy”. This means that the native
Thailand) or expatriate teachers, preferably native
speaker knows his or her language thoroughly, “from the
speakers of the target language.
inside”. He has learnt the language at his mother’s knee.
His growth as a person cannot be separated from his
There has been considerable discussion in the past ten
development in the language of his infancy. But does that
years or so about the following questions:
mean he can teach the language well? The answer to that
depends on other conditions. Is he a trained teacher? Has
he been trained in teaching English to non-native for other reasons to be a teacher. They seem to believe
speakers? Has he natural ability for teaching? Does he that the simple fact of hearing an authentic native speaker
like to teach? Does he understand the preferred learning accent and authentic native oral grammar is more
styles and values of his students? Does he know anything important than knowing how language is learned and how
of the students’ language and the difficulties they may best to teach it. But what about the alternative: to employ
have as a result? Does he understand social and Thai teachers who are proficient at English?
managerial expectations in the culture within which he is
working? If the answer to all these questions is “yes”, that There are some very good Thai teachers of English. These
would be wonderful. That teacher would not only have teachers not only know the language well, they also know
authenticity of language, but authenticity of pedagogy as the Thai students well. They know what will help students
well. It is unrealistic though to expect that all native to learn and they know what kinds of difficulties students
speaking English teachers will meet all the above are going to have with English. They also understand the
conditions. Schools, therefore, employ the best they can values and expectations of Thai culture and they can
get and, hopefully, at least some of the teachers meet accept and fit in with the social and managerial culture of a
these criteria and stay in Thailand for a long time. Thai school. So why don’t we employ these teachers
instead of relying on expatriates? The answer is that there
Some native speaking teachers, however, clearly don’t are not enough of them to go around. In fact, there
meet the criteria at all and one wonders why they are appear to be not many Thai teachers at all who have the
employed. The answer appears to be that parents regard ability and the confidence and the desire to teach English.
“authenticity of language” as being much more important It is especially difficult to find Thai teachers who are able
than “authenticity of pedagogy”. They hope that the to teach subject content through English, as is required in
teacher has enough teaching ability, even though perhaps a bilingual program.
untrained, perhaps inexperienced and perhaps unsuitable
So what do we do? Give up? Of course not, but if we want Perhaps the next article in this series on bilingual
a growing number of Thai teachers of English to education could discuss the question: Exactly what is a
supplement and work co-operatively with capable and native speaker (and what, therefore, is a “non-native
diligent foreign teachers in our schools then a lot of money speaker)?
must be spent to train young teachers and to attract good
Thai speakers of English to the teaching profession. This
cannot be done cheaply. If we want Thai teachers to have
authentic language as well as authentic pedagogy, they
really need at least one semester of study in an English-
speaking country. One year would be better. If we want
good speakers of English to leave their companies and
come to teach we will need to give them attractive salaries
and conditions. However, in the long run it will be cheaper
to employ many more Thai teachers of English than we do
currently than to continue depending on foreign teachers.
Wouldn’t it be good if our children were able to learn
English at school from good, carefully selected Thai and
foreign teachers, working co-operatively and sharing their
knowledge so that students will benefit from the most
authentic language and pedagogy available.